Special Report

The Weapons the US Military Spends Billions On

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

A large share of the massive United States defense budget of more than $750 billion — by far the largest in the world — goes to weaponry. This spending covers not just guns and artillery, but large, complex systems that give the military the ability to strike from sea, air, land, and even space. These systems are costly to create: Many planes, submarines, and missile systems cost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to build.

To determine America’s most expensive weapons, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the U.S. Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request. Only items that were procured in fiscal year 2021 were considered. (One exception is the  B-21 Raider under development by Northrop Grumman, which has cost $2.74 billion thus far but hasn’t yet been procured and isn’t expected to go into service until 2026 at the earliest.) Costs were determined to be the total amount spent per vehicle, weapon, or system procured.

The most expensive single item in the military’s budget for 2021 is the SSBN 826 Columbia Class Ballistic Missile Submarine. Built by General Dynamics, the submarine is designed to provide “a sea-based strategic nuclear force” that can launch Trident II ballistic missiles. Between research and development and procurement, a single one of these subs cost over $4.5 billion. It will be one of a dozen such vessels procured to replace older submarines in the U.S. fleet.

Because only a single example of the sub was procured in fiscal 2021, however, it isn’t the item the U.S. military spends the most money on – it’s only in third place. The largest expenditure of all was $12.74 billion spent to procure 96 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, followed by $7.16 billion for two SSN 774 Virginia Class submarines.

Click here to see what the U.S. military spends the most money on

Each weapon, system, and vehicle on this list was developed and constructed by contractors. These companies make billions of dollars each year designing and fabricating advanced technologies for the military. Many sell primarily to the U.S. military, but often to many others around the world as well. These are the companies profiting the most from war.

Source: guvendemir / iStock via Getty Images

28. UH-60 Black Hawk
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.12 billion
> Cost per unit: $17.02 million
> Quantity procured: 66

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Source: Courtesy of Lockheed Martin via Army.mil

27. GMLRS Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.13 billion
> Cost per unit: $162,579
> Quantity procured: 6,932

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

26. FFG(X) Constellation Class Guided Missile Frigate
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.13 billion
> Cost per unit: $1.13 billion
> Quantity procured: 1

25. LPD San Antonio Class Amphibious Transport
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.16 billion
> Cost per unit: $1.16 billion
> Quantity procured: 1

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24. E-2D Advanced Hawkeye
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.18 billion
> Cost per unit: $235.60 million
> Quantity procured: 5

23. AH-64E Apache: Remanufacture/New Build
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.18 billion
> Cost per unit: $22.75 million
> Quantity procured: 52

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Source: Courtesy of Lockheed Martin via Army.mil

22. Stryker Family of Armored Vehicles
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.19 billion
> Cost per unit: $4.67 million
> Quantity procured: 254

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

21. GBSD Ground Based Strategic Deterrent
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.40 billion
> Cost per unit: $1.40 billion
> Quantity procured: 1

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

20. M-1 Abrams Tank Modification/Upgrades
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.40 billion
> Cost per unit: $13.76 million
> Quantity procured: 102

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19. JLTV Joint Light Tactical Vehicle
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.41 billion
> Cost per unit: $349,627
> Quantity procured: 4,028

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

18. NSSL & RSLP Launch Enterprise
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.61 billion
> Cost per unit: $536.46 million
> Quantity procured: 3

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Source: Public Domain / USAF via Wikimedia Commons

17. GPS III & Projects Global Positioning System Enterprise
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.75 billion
> Cost per unit: $875.50 million
> Quantity procured: 2

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

16. Aegis Sea-Based Weapons System
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.75 billion
> Cost per unit: $17.91 million
> Quantity procured: 98

Source: Public Domain / U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Molly Hampton

15. CH-53K Heavy Lift Replacement Helicopter
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.78 billion
> Cost per unit: $197.27 million
> Quantity procured: 9

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14. P-8A Poseidon
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.78 billion
> Cost per unit: $197.43 million
> Quantity procured: 9

Source: my_public_domain_photos / Flickr

13. F/A-18 Super Hornet
> Total spent in FY 2021: $1.90 billion
> Cost per unit: $79.4 million
> Quantity procured: 24

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Source: guvendemir / E+ via Getty Images

12. F-15 Eagle
> Total spent in FY 2021: $2.00 billion
> Cost per unit: $167.05 million
> Quantity procured: 12

Source: mjf795 / iStock via Getty Images

11. V-22 Osprey
> Total spent in FY 2021: $2.14 billion
> Cost per unit: $142.67 million
> Quantity procured: 15

Source: usairforce / Flickr

10. C-130J Hercules
> Total spent in FY 2021: $2.24 billion
> Cost per unit: $139.96 million
> Quantity procured: 16

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Source: Courtesy of Boeing

9. GMD Ground-based Midcourse Defense
> Total spent in FY 2021: $2.30 billion
> Cost per unit: $2.30 billion
> Quantity procured: 1

Source: Courtesy of Northrop Grumman

8. OPIR Space Based Missile Warning Systems
> Total spent in FY 2021: $2.46 billion
> Cost per unit: $2.46 billion
> Quantity procured: 1

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

7. B-21 Raider
> Total spent in FY 2021: $2.74 billion
> Cost per unit: N/A (under development)
> Quantity procured: N/A

6. KC-46A Tanker
> Total spent in FY 2021: $2.77 billion
> Cost per unit: $172.89 million
> Quantity procured: 16

Source: usnavy / Flickr

5. CVN 78 Gerald R. Ford Class Nuclear Aircraft Carrier
> Total spent in FY 2021: $2.84 billion
> Cost per unit: $2.84 billion
> Quantity procured: 1

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Source: viper-zero / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

4. DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer
> Total spent in FY 2021: $3.79 billion
> Cost per unit: $1.90 billion
> Quantity procured: 2

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

3. SSBN 826 Columbia Class Ballistic Missile Submarine
> Total spent in FY 2021: $4.51 billion
> Cost per unit: $4.51 billion
> Quantity procured: 1

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Source: national_museum_of_the_us_navy / Flickr

2. SSN 774 Virginia Class Submarine
> Total spent in FY 2021: $7.16 billion
> Cost per unit: $3.58 billion
> Quantity procured: 2

Source: bbevren / iStock via Getty Images

1. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
> Total spent in FY 2021: $12.74 billion
> Cost per unit: $132.76 million
> Quantity procured: 96

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